I find a comfortable chair among the dozen or so that are arranged in the room looking out at the bird feeders. Many of the chairs are already taken. I slide into an available one and get myself prepared.
It’s chemotherapy day.
I’ll be here for most of the day, getting my drugs and injections, all designed to fight the CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia) that has afflicted me for some years now. I’ve mentioned it in a previous column or two. It has progressed a bit and the time has come to knock it back down. I’ll receive a total of six sessions over the course of the next six months. I’ve done this regimen a couple of times before and pretty much know what to expect.
I unpack my kit, my shopping bag of essentials: a sandwich, snacks, my notebook, and a few issues of The Daily Gazette. It’s a good time to catch up on some reading and perhaps generate an idea or two for my column.
The needle goes in pretty smoothly and almost painlessly. The nurse gets a good blood draw and can start the injections. She begins with a flush of the vein and begins to line up the bags of medicine on the medicine tree. It’s time to settle back, maybe take a nap and generally let your mind wander.
I survey the room, looking at the other patients, and wonder what type of misfortune led them to this place, to join me in the battle to get well. I open my Gazette.
Any propensity to feel sorry for oneself disappears quickly on Page One. An earthquake has rocked Haiti and thousands of people are dead or dying. There are no services, no water, no medical care, and hardly a notion of how bad it is and, worse, how bad it will become. Self-pity disappears. The capital city, Port au Prince, is in ruins. People can’t get out and aid can’t get in.
It’s heartbreaking and the news of the devastation will continue for days. I think of the history of this beautiful, enchanted island. How it was dominated by the dictatorial powers of “Papa Doc” Duvalier from the 1950s to his death in 1971, only to be succeeded by his somewhat playboy and inept son, “Baby Doc” Duvalier, and how it was held in poverty through those many decades. Haiti never had a chance. There has been no political or infrastructural base to build upon. Essentially, it was never allowed to prosper. I wish it were as easy as the chemo drip going into my arm to bring health and strength to this impoverished nation.
The nurse changes the medication and I turn the page of my Gazette. I read of a movement to replace the Schenectady school board by a reformist group, and I think how much I would like to take part in that reformation. Spending 35 years in education drives me to want to improve our schools in Schenectady. But the needle in my arm characterizes the drain of energy and verve that is necessary to dive head-on into the problems of our city, and robs one of the desire and talent to help.
An encouraging thought crosses my mind: that by my getting better, all of us in this room, we could help others get better in some way. Getting back to work, out of the house, playing music again and adding some volunteer work would be the best medication for all of us.
I turn the page of my Gazette and see that, according to a Siena poll, Gov. Paterson’s approval rating has gone up to 38 percent. Some friends think a recent column I wrote supporting him may have helped. I think many people are beginning to respect his determination and bravery in tackling our economic problems.
But this very day he releases his budget for the coming fiscal year, and I sigh. While I still support him, I wonder if his popularity will decrease when people learn of his proposals: cutting school aid by $1.1 billion, raising taxes on cigarettes and soda, closing four upstate prisons, state aid cuts to cities, cuts in health care, continuing a hiring freeze on state workers and so on. I don’t think this will help his popularity, although, once again, I support his tenacity. Now it appears that Attorney General Cuomo might decide to run for governor. I turn the page with diminishing hopes of Paterson’s success.
The mood in the chemo room is uplifting. The nurses always talk and joke, keeping spirits high. A few people get to leave. Done for the day? The month? The year?
One never knows, but there is an affinity among us, a shared cross to bear, that produces smiles and friendly hellos and wishes for the best.
I’ll be back in three weeks as I have just started this cycle, but I try to remain optimistic and draw good thoughts from the care I am receiving.
The article on Republican Scott Brown’s defeat of Democrat Martha Coakley for Sen. Kennedy’s seat representing Massachusetts draws my attention. It is somewhat surprising, but what really grabbed me was the invasion into the state of carpetbaggers and “tea party” people there to influence an election in a state they don’t even live in! Is it all about stopping President Obama’s health care plan by erasing his “super majority”?
I don’t like it, and I’ll tell you why: We’re next! If a constitutional convention is called for New York state, the entire constitution could be up for review. This will bring out all the “tea party,” anti-tax, anti-government, anti-your benefits people for miles and states around.
It won’t be just about cleaning up the Legislature, it will become a fight over retirements, union benefits, health care, “big” government, and whatever you’ve fairly earned. These will be attacked by those who believe that government is somehow inherently bad, and those who work in the public domain don’t deserve what they’ve earned. Be very careful when thinking that this will somehow benefit us all. No one will be safe.
The sports section is dominated by the upcoming NFL Playoffs. The Colts will play the Jets and the Saints will play the Vikings. I’m interested because I took the Colts in my pool and they’re still alive.
The games have now been played and we know it will be the Colts vs. the Saints in the Super Bowl. Thank God we won’t have to hear about Bret Favre for the next two weeks! And, since it can’t be my beloved Detroit Lions (yes, you can pity me), then I’ll be rooting for the Colts. I watched the games and the most inspiring part was not the play. It was the remarkable and inspirational singing of the National Anthem by Jordin Sparks before the first game. As she sang, a bald eagle flew around the stadium, bringing national pride to all of us.
My meds are finally finished. As the needle is removed and I get ready to leave the chemo room, I feel that I want to soar like that eagle. And I hope that all of us who shared a little bit of our lives together in the chemo room that day eventually will.
Anthony Frank lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.
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